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Southold considers amending fire code to expand duties of fire marshal

The Southold fire marshal has requested the Town Board review potential legislation that would bring town fire codes closer to state standards.

Fire marshal James Easton and building inspector Mike Verity outlined a draft of the legislation to the Town Board at a work session last Tuesday. In a letter included with the meeting agenda packet, Mr. Easton said some changes would expand his “duties within the town with regard to fire investigations, as well as [his] daily inspection duties with the addition and implementation of operating permits.” Most of the suggestions mirror New York State code, according to Mr. Verity.

According to a draft of the proposed legislation, tents and similar structures larger than 400 square feet — except for tents used exclusively for recreational camping or certain types of tents that are open on all sides — would require fire code approval before they could be put up or maintained. 

“The change would mirror what New York state uniform code expects,” Mr. Easton said. He noted in an interview after the work session that if someone were to read the town code now, it would appear that all tents need to be inspected. The amendment is to “bring it up to speed” with state fire code.

“By state code, any tent under 400 square feet doesn’t require approval … unless it’s laid out in town code,” he said at the work session. “I have had a couple of tents in the past few years under that 400 square-foot mark and it’s really a technicality. The town isn’t gaining much, having a fire safety inspection of such a small tent. The occupant load is very low, there isn’t anything we would be worried about regarding fire safety in those sized tents.”

Another proposed amendment to existing fire prevention and building code would impact the implementation of operating permits to manufacture, store or handle hazardous materials. 

“Things like food trucks are covered under this, energy storage systems, solar energy storage systems, lumber yards — anything that is a high hazard to the town and its residents and visitors would require these occupancies and businesses to apply for a permit with the town. I would go out and inspect the premises and grant them an operating permit, which could be renewed,” Mr. Easton said. 

The fire marshal’s duties would also be further defined and expanded to include the powers and duties attributed to a building inspector in town code. Mr. Easton, who was recently certified as a fire investigator, would also like the authority to participate in local fire investigations conducted by Suffolk County. 

The proposed code also opens up the door for local fire departments and fire districts to summon the fire marshal in emergency situations. 

“I added this only because we weren’t being called out to a handful of fires that have happened in the past few years. This kind of lays out some parameters on when the fire marshal should be called regarding a structure fire or any emergency in town,” Mr. Easton said. 

The draft has not been passed yet; it still needs to be reviewed by a code committee and the town attorney’s office. It was presented to the Town Board for their “blessing” before moving forward, Mr. Easton said. 

“I’ll be working with the Fire Chiefs Council on the fire department side to try and get the same information out to them and let them know I’ve recently been certified and I’m working on legislation that will make it my duty to go to their fire scenes when called for,” Mr. Easton said in an interview.

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